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Chloe Allison is president and creative director of Alli C., a children's wear and accessories business.

Entrepreneur works to develop children's fashion industry in Milwaukee

When Chloe Allison was a little girl, she had a pair of pink patent leather dress shoes that she loved so much she wanted to sleep in them. Now, Allison wants to create that feeling for other little girls with her children's wear and accessories business, Alli C.

Allison, a Milwaukee native who attended Alexander Hamilton High School, founded Alli C. in 2011 after working for Kenneth Cole, an American fashion brand. Alli C. offers beanies, blankets and accessories for infants from birth to 24 months. Her clothing is sold at boutiques in Evanston, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. Allison also sells her brand at baby showers and to Milwaukee residents through email. She is currently developing an e-commerce website, which will make it easier for her to sell online.

Allison's best-selling items are silk-lined beanies and blankets. She got the idea from watching her hair stylist put pieces of silk behind her baby's head in the car seat. Silk does not soak up lotion or creams that may be on a baby's skin and does not get tangled in hair.

Allison did not always want to go into fashion; when she was growing up, she wanted to be a veterinarian. It wasn't until her sophomore year of high school that she realized she would be unable to put down a sick animal or work with reptiles. That year, she went to a summer fashion program for high school students at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While at SCAD, Allison realized that she was talented at fashion design and had a passion for the work.

In college, she hoped to design bridal wear, but after coming up with the idea for Alli C., she decided to create children's clothing instead. Allison said she loves working with children so it has been a good fit.

According to Shirah Rachel Apple, spokesperson for the U.S Small Business Administration& Wisconsin District Office, entrepreneurs starting a small business have a number of hurdles they have to overcome.

Apple noted that planning helps small business owners grow their businesses more rapidly. "We have seen it time and time again that business who do more planning make more money, hire more people and stay in business longer."

Apple recommends that small business owners contact a mentor through Milwaukee organizations such as SCORE or the Small Business Development Center run by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. "It is definitely a challenge for small businesses to get started, but we have a lot of resources to help them," she said.

Nyerere Davidson, president of Social X, an organization that works to help young professionals thrive in Milwaukee, has mentored Allison. "I think she has a huge vision for her company," said Davidson. "She has a huge vision for fashion in Milwaukee, especially for children's fashion."

Allison runs Alli C. on her own, but said that her family has been helpful in unpacking merchandise and providing emotional support. Her day-to-day activities include calling boutiques, designing new collections, going through inventory and working with sewing contractors in Chicago and Janesville.

She would like to manufacture her products in Milwaukee but said there is not a large enough sewing force locally. Sewing is a "dying art in Milwaukee," she noted. Allison said that she has been working with the Makers Coalition, whose mission is to build the sewing industry in the U.S. A branch of the group operates in Milwaukee.

Although her business is six years old, Allison said she still considers it to be in the "startup phase." She observed that it has been a struggle to market her products and get them placed in boutiques; most of her business comes through word of mouth.

Nevertheless, Allison said she is committed to grow the business in the next five years.

According to Davidson, "She knows what she wants; she is very driven and very tenacious."

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